Yup! At least a way to talk to me. Tell me not to show up.
After saying her goodbyes to friends and loved ones in her hometown of Asgad, Praxy walked the 6 kilometers back to Salcedo. She was not allowed to walk alone, friends and neighbors from Salcedo accompanied her.
Time for dinner. Six families, 35 people, all joined together to cook a communal supper. Dolor’s family with Praxy, Lando and his three children with a friend, Viscente and his family, Anita’s family, a family of seven that Dolor was sheltering, and Eric’s family with one baby from Guiuan. Everyone was a little serious, talking about the calamity. But they were happy to be together. On the menu, rice, rice and more rice, cooked green bananas, two fighting chickens that were in the wrong place at the wrong time made into a soup with green papaya and lots of water. (Writer’s note. Anyone reading this remember the old story about stone soup?) The chickens were very tough, but no one complained. They were more for flavor than to eat!
Afterwards, everyone found a place on the floor to sleep. Dolor’s house is not very big, so the floor in the living room and both bedrooms were coated with people. Even the front porch had sleepers. There was 27 in the living room alone. There was also people with coughs and respiratory ailments. Praxy brought back a cough as a souvenir.
More people showed up, Praxy does not know the final count. There was no electricity, no lights. Everyone chatted a while in the dark before going to sleep.
Next day, a rumor ran wild through Salcedo. “There is cell service in Borongon”. By now the roads were clear, and Lando was able to find enough fuel to make the trip on a motorcycle. Lando had waited in line in Guiuan for 1o hours in the hot sun to obtain 2 liters of precious gasoline for $500 PHP or $12 USD. That is close to $24 a gallon. Praxy was one of the few people in the area that had enough money.
So Praxy and Lando took off for Borongon, to tell me, Ken, not to come to Salcedo. The road was pretty well cleared and they made good time, about 2 1/2 hours. At Borongon, bad news, No cell service. There was an Americano with a satellite phone, but they had passed him on the road when he went to Guiuan. He was allowing people free calls to loved ones. (Editor’s note, what a kind gesture by that Americano! Sat phone time is very expensive and that was a risky trip.)
Rumors were flying. “If there is a newscaster nearby, you will get cell service”. “There is cell service in Xxxxx town (take your pick of the town name), go there. None were true.
By now, Praxy decided to continue on 2 1/2 more hours to Can-Avid to check on her brother Amato and his family. Amato had already been to Tacloban and brought back his son, Agah. Praxy was concerned about Amato because he had gone to Tacloban thinking Praxy was there. However, all was well. The family was reunited in Can-Avid.
Of course, there was no cell service in Can-Avid either.
Next morning, Lando and Praxy set off for the return to Salcedo with a tiny amount of fuel. Lando asked everyone on the way, and Praxy had enough money with her to purchase the fuel. Going price was about $160PHP per liter, or $16USD per gallon. They managed to scrounge up enough gas to return to Salcedo.
In Hernani, a lucky break. There was a van driver with fuel in his van heading for Manila and he was a good friend of Lando’s. Praxy gave him money to call the US and he was later able to reach Leslie back in the US for one of the confirmations that Praxy was still alive.
Back to Salcedo. Next day, there was a rumor that small planes and helicopters were landing at Asgad delivering relief supplies. So, Praxy walked back to Asgad and…
By golly, a rumor that was finally true! Praxy sent a note with these people and the message got through. Leslie relayed the message, but we already knew that Praxy was OK at this time. This contact was our proof positive, everything else had been circumstantial. Of course Praxy had no idea this was successful until a few days later.
Lando had left early in the morning to see if the rumor was true that it was possible to be flown out of the area by aircraft. Proof? If he didn’t return to Salcedo that night, he was in Manila. He didn’t return that night.
Things were really looking up!
Time to leave. As Praxy was packing, Presco and Paul showed up at Salcedo. They were ecstatic to find each other; Praxy knew they would come looking and they did. They spent a pleasant evening together. Presco and Paul also met up with Praxy at the airport in Guiuan the next morning. They were looking for the missing brother of a neighbor in Dumaguette. It turns out this person was OK. Presco and Paul continued on to Asgad and returned home to Dumaguette on Thursday.
It was now clear to Praxy that she could easily leave. 5am the next morning, Lando’s son drove Praxy to Guiuan on the motorcycle. Up until that time, no luggage was allowed. Praxy didn’t bring hers. So, she left it behind with Dolor in Salcedo.
Guess what? Now luggage was allowed! Praxy was not about to get out of line to retrieve hers in Salcedo. And finally a cell rumor that was true. Praxy was able to dial out when a Manila bound C130 was sitting on the ground next to her at about 9am. The people around her were stunned and everyone started dialing madly. You just had to wait until 20 minutes after the plane had landed. Evidently, they carry their own satellite uplink for cell service and Praxy had stumbled on to it.
And…our first spoken words together in almost three weeks. Praxy was at the Guiuan airport waiting for the next plane to Cebu. I asked for a time, of course she didn’t know. No problem.
Finally, something for me to do! I arranged transport for Praxy from the airbase to the Mactan house with Gina’s husband. I got a big laugh from Lyndon when he found out. He had expected that he would have to line out the transportation, but I’d beat him to it. About the only time I’ve ever done that. I was soooo proud of myself!
In comes food and supplies, out go refugees. Praxy hitched a ride with the Australian Air Force on one of their C130s to Cebu. She called me for pick up at about 3pm. The day had been endless for me. Waiting for that call.
No public transportation vehicles, meaning taxis, busses, or jeepneys, are allowed on the airbase. But we were able to easily get in, pick her up, and leave within 10 minutes. She was standing just outside the evac center with a purse, the clothes on her back, a change of clothes, and a packet of amoxicillin for what turned out to be some sort of chest infection. Nothing else.
I was never so glad to see someone in my life! Finally, she was safe in my arms. All the hard work from both sides of the story came together with a happy ending.
But…There is still one more story to tell. The story of Presco and Paul’s journey across devastated Leyte and Eastern Samar. Praxy says it is amazing and tragic. I will be interviewing them both to get that story when Praxy and I visit them in Dumaguette in a few days.
With just a few exceptions, this will be about the last about the nightmare called Haiyan or Yolanda. We are going to try to enjoy the next few weeks before leaving for home on or about the 8-10th of December. I hope you enjoyed this series of stories as much as I enjoyed bringing them to you!
I can well remember my days in grade school. I hated creative writing, or any writing for that matter. I had to be forced to do the class under threat of poor grades and being grounded. I ended up writing some pretty cool stuff, things that my mother kept in her keepsakes. I would have never guessed that I would now enjoy doing something that I so detested 50 years ago.
Writing is hard work. You have to WANT to do it. A short story like this takes over two and 1/2 hours of steady work plus editing. The Asgad story took over 4 hours. This one might be a little rough. Getting tired. I’ve had to do a lot of writing while everything was fresh in my mind.
Time for a beer!